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Seeing Clearly

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seeing Clearly

It’s been nearly two years, and I still remember the interview.

It had been a terrible week for our armed forces. Specifically, the loss of thirty Navy SEALS on mission in Afghanistan. They were killed when their helicopter was shot down on a mission to protect other soldiers.

It was the deadliest day to date in the history of the conflict.

It generated a lot of discussion: whether we should be in Afghanistan or not, the strategy we’d been following, the work of the Navy SEALS and other special operation forces...

But what struck me more than anything was what came from the families of those thirty men. It was so consistent, in interview after interview.

Widow after widow. Mother after mother. Father after father.

One, in particular, stayed with me.

The soldier’s name was Aaron Vaughn. His mother, father, and wife appeared on NBC’s The Today Show.

This is what his father had to say about his son:

“…he honestly believed, and saw black and white, that what we’re involved in… is a war for the survival of our Republic. Aaron [knew] that the war with Islamic fundamentalism… has gone for hundreds of years. … It can be traced through history. And he felt, and so did the other members of his team, that the very existence of our Republic is at stake. And because of that, Aaron was willing to give his life. … [He saw it] clearly, and so many don’t.”

Here was a young man who saw where his life fit into things, the larger picture of the contest between good and evil, right and wrong. He saw the greater contest in which his life played a part so clearly that he was more than willing to give his life.

I do not disagree with his assessment of the “clash of civilizations” raging in our world, and have written as much in other places. And as important as that contest is, and as much as I honor the life of this solider and the lives so many others have given in the name of freedom, there is a greater contest still.

Here’s how the apostle Paul described it:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it,

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels” (Ephesians 6:12, Msg).

I do not know what tends to occupy your life. If you are like most people, including myself, it trends toward the trivial and mundane.

Even when we throw ourselves in Kingdom work, it can be reduced to staff and budgets, campaigns and buildings, new sites and marketing, processes and structures, music and tech. 

This soldier reminds me what should be front and center in our thinking. What should be seen, and felt, so clearly – residing in the vanguard of our thinking, driving our life and motivating every step.

We are at war.

And all that matters is whether we see it clearly enough to make the ultimate sacrifices.

James Emery White



“Fallen SEAL was ‘willing to give his life’” NBC’s Today Show, airdate Monday, August 8, 2011, watch the video online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Seeing Clearly